Greek roots bind Australian clan

After 167 years a group of South Australians find out that they are descendants of Yiorgos Tramountanas-North one of the first Greeks to arrive on these shores.

Daryl Edmonds, Denise McEvoy, Paul Willis and Dianne Jaspers don’t speak Greek, have no connection with Greek culture and Hellenism means little, if anything, to them.

One of the clan was convinced she was adopted on account of her Mediterranean appearance until she found out about her Greek roots.

Yet, they are the perfect example of why we are drawn to our roots, to the place of origin, to the person that started everything.

They are among the descendants of the first Greek who came to South Australia in the mid 1800s.

Now, 167 years later they delight in recounting the story of their great-great grandfather, Yiorgos Tramountanas.

Yiorgos Tramountanas, from Limnos, came to Australia in 1842 with his brother Theodoros and settled in South Australia after some years at sea. He was 20 years old.

His brother left for Albany, Western Australia, never to be heard of again.
Yiorgos changed his name to George North, married Lydia Vosper and had two sons, George Henry and Hero Clare.

He lived in various settlements in the Eyre Peninsula and spent his life raising sheep in the properties he owned.

He died at the ripe age of 89 having established the oldest Greek-Australian family in South Australia and possibly the oldest in Australia.

We don’t know what made Yiorgo Tramountana choose Australia but along the years he lost his name, his language and his religion.

None of his children or grandchildren had Greek names and the story of a grandfather who could speak Greek became a small part of the family’s history that faded with the generations. But time, often, has unexpected effects no matter how opaque a founding cultural identity has become.

The Greeks say “you can’t turn blood into water”.
Over a century later some of his descendants – totally unaware of their Greek origins – wondered why Greek music would make them want to dance, why the sound of a foreign language sounded so familiar, why they’d feel at home in the company of Greeks, while a few others would be perplexed by their olive complexion in a family dominated by blue eyes and blonde hair.

One of the clan was convinced she was adopted on account of her Mediterranean appearance until she found out about her Greek roots.

In the early 1990s the Greek Orthodox Community of South Australia (GOCSA) was instrumental in restoring Tramountanas’ memory after local historian Dr Michael Tsounis recounted his story in the book The Story of a Community. A plaque was placed on the Greek nursing home in Ridleyton in honour of George Tramountanas-North.

It sparked an interest in the community for the first Greek in South Australia who was also one of the pioneers in the state, which was created in 1836 by free settlers in contrast to NSW and Victoria which started as convict colonies.

His name was also displayed in South Australia’s Immigration Museum. It was noticed by one of the visitors who had heard that her grandmother’s maiden name was North. She talked to her two sisters and the three of them went to GOCSA to find out more.

GOSCA put them in touch with John Lesses, former vice-president of GOSCA and history aficionado. The result of that simple enquiry was the birth of the Tramountanas-North Association.
That “birth” was preceded by countless hours on the Internet, various archives and libraries to find out more about the person that started the Tramountanas-North family.

They visited cemeteries, farms, wineries, took trips to the places the family and its descendants had lived in search of clues that would lead back to the great patriarch of the family.
They started finding other distant relatives in South Australia and tracked down Tramountanas’ all over Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan and even Greece.
They launched a website due to the passion and diligence of Mario Jaspers who’s married to Dianne, a fifth generation Tramountanas.

Mario Jaspers and John Lesses are the driving forces behind the Tramountanas revival.
” I like researching history, especially family history” says Jaspers who gets a kick out of finding anything related to his wife’s ancestor. He and Dianne spent about a full day going over shipping records from 1836 to 1948 trying to find the exact date that Yiorgos Tramountanas arrived in Australia and on which ship.

That search was fruitless but they keep on going. Daryl Edmonds, president of the Tramountanas-North Association, finds the whole story exhilarating: “It’s fascinating. I love the detective work, the research, to go back in time, create links to the past”.

The George North Walkway in Colton, in one of the family’s original properties, is marked by two rows of olive trees planted by the descendants in 1997 with the help of the Greek Community of SA.

It leads to the Colton Catholic Cemetery where G. Tramountanas is buried.
His monument once found was restored with the help of his great-daughter the late Ellen Purcell who was also instrumental in placing the plaque at Ridleyton.
When they held a festival or paniyiri in honour of Tramountanas it was attended by over one thousand people and attracted the interest of the district council of Elliston and the local community.

Ever since, groups of Tramountanas’ take turns to visit Colton and tend to the olive trees. They were excited when they secured a donation for a water tank for the trees. “I hope George is happy. I hear there are olive trees in Limnos.” says Paul Willis.

The work of Denise McEvoy, Daryl Edmonds, Dianne Jaspers, Karyn Young, Pauline Warne and Paul Willis, powered by John Lesses and Mario Jaspers, continues unabated.
They talk about going to Limnos to establish connections with Tramountanas’ village and find other relatives.

They want to establish an exchange program with Greece. According to Mario Jaspers one of the priorities is to find the oldest living descendant to sign off the lease of George and Hero’s gravesite to the Association in order to be able to restore their graves.
Next month the Tramountanas-North Association will celebrate its first anniversary.

A lamb on the spit was the first thing that came to mind for the Tramountanas clan when asked how they would celebrate.